Illustration by Hannah Robinson

Lunch with The Broad: As You Like It’s Michael Zwiauer

Michael Zwiauer is a man who never stops moving. From its conception to conclusion, his new production of As You Like It– opening in a few days at Pleasance Theatre- will have occupied over fifteen months of his life. He tells me that his interest in Shakespeare’s romantic comedies began in late 2018, when studying the plays; “Tragedies are often more impressive to watch because it all rests on one or two actors being great but I think I prefer the comedies because there’s just so much more to work with”. Zwiauer’s aim from the start was to try and bring out the darker themes of the comedies, the unresolved tensions that are thrown up in the first half “so that there’s always a sense of danger and always something at stake”.

There’s a lot at stake for Zwiauer, himself. The Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company’s March slot is sacrosanct within student theatre circles, even though they have recently occupied a slot at the Fringe in recent years. All the time, effort and money goes into this. Zwiauer, however, is not showing the strain. He talks calmly about working with his group of actors: “My instinct was always to make sure that I’m not someone who sits down and tells actors how to act or what to do”. As You Like It has been his first time directing, yet the plethora of acting credits he has under his belt- The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night among them- have helped him to hone his craft over the years. While he maintains the air of ‘it’ll be alright on the night’ throughout our lunch, it’s clearly been time consuming. The application process for the EUSC began in April, while Zwiauer spent all of the summer “going through the play, just by [himself] and figuring out what each line means exactly”, particularly impressive for someone for whom English is a second language.  

The meticulousness with which he studied the play is at odds with his liberalism on the text. When I press him on the universality of the themes in his production, he argues that the text should speak for itself; “Generally speaking, art that has one specific statement is always very weak for me. That’s what’s great about Shakespeare because the characters that he’s written, still apply so well to today because they’re not tied to a specific issue or time… the themes are universal.” As You Like It is not short of modern socio-political issues. As with many of Shakespeare’s comedies, the performativity of gender and androgyny form a huge part of the storyline while, interestingly, Zwiauer raises humankind’s relationship with the wilderness; “There’s actually a couple of lines in the play about the ethical problems with human beings encroaching into nature and pretending that it’s all theirs to play with”. The play will be performed a week after Greta Thunberg’s visit to the UK while more Extinction Rebellion protests are expected this summer which only adds to the astonishing prescience of Shakespeare’s universality.

After winding our way through our lunch, Zwiauer’s producer and flatmate- all three of his cohabitants are involved in the production- informs us that they have to leave for a rehearsal. Such is the rapid pace of Michael Zwiauer’s life at the moment, I feel lucky to have him sit down with me for half an hour. Nonetheless, as the pressure rises, he must take some comfort from the fact that, in a week, it will all be over; “Proceed, proceed: we will begin these rites, as we do trust they’ll end, in true delights”.

As You Like It will be performed at 19:30 from Wednesday 4th March until Saturday 7th March. A matinée performance will take place at 14:30 on Sunday 8th March. All performances take place at Pleasance Courtyard.